Like many of my colleagues who work in the IT world, I’ve had concerns with Windows 10 in the area of privacy since the release of the new platform more than two years ago. It’s one thing for Facebook and Amazon to track your wanderings all over the web; it’s another thing entirely for your operating system to log every keystroke you make and send it to the cloud. Well OK, maybe it’s not actually doing this in the same way as keyloggers do, so it’s unfair to say that Windows 10 has spyware built right into it. On the other hand, who can you really trust nowadays? We live in a paranoid world where the CIA, NSA and other three-letter agencies seem to be hiding behind every tree.
Regardless of whether Windows 10 actually logs keystrokes or not, the issue of privacy is no longer one that can be ignored both by ordinary users and by corporations despite all of Microsoft’s assurances to the contrary. And while there are lots of articles out there telling you how you can tweak various Windows 10 settings to protect your privacy (including on TechGenix), the average user doesn’t want to spend a bunch of time hunting and pecking around the interface looking for buttons to slide or checkboxes to clear.
Enter privacy tools, those (mostly) free utilities you can download and use to quickly and easily make your Windows 10 PC or laptop as private as possible. Here are three such “privacy enhancement” (or anti-anti-privacy) tools I’ve found somewhat useful in this regard and that you may want to check out before you do online banking again on your laptop.
DoNotSpy10 from pXc-Coding was one of the first utilities created to make it easier for users to disable Microsoft’s built-in data collecting features in Windows 10. The utility is freeware and enables you to quickly disable a huge number of settings relating to your computer’s hardware and software including your microphone, camera, WiFi, Bluetooth, handwriting, messaging, browsing, telemetry, and other capabilities. What I particularly like about DoNotSpy10 is its simple no-nonsense user interface that gives you a straightforward list of settings you can disable along with color-coded explanations that help you decide which tweaks you may want to apply to your system.
The utility even allows you to create a System Restore point prior to applying any tweaks you have selected from its user interface, which is a good idea if you’re not completely sure what effect making a change might have with how your system operates in its environment. The newer version 2.0 release of DoNotSpy10 now supports Windows 10 Creators Update with additional new privacy tweaks added to it, though I haven’t actually used the new release since we’re holding off upgrading our computers to Creators Update until we’ve finished all of our testing with the new platform. And while some well-known industry pundits have warned people off from using DoNotSpy10, the inclusion of installer MD5 and SHA1 hashes on the tool’s download page means you can make sure that you’ve downloaded the original software instead of a hacked version that has malware implanted in it. Of course this means you should make a small donation so you can download the more functional ad-free version of DoNotSpy10 instead of the less functional no-cost ad-supported version of the product. But isn’t that what the “freeware” software development model is all about? That is, by donating money to the developers you offset the time and effort they expended on your behalf to create the software you’re now using.
AntiSpy for Windows 10
AntiSpy for Windows 10 from Ashampoo is another useful tool for Windows 10 that does all of the necessary things to help ensure the privacy of your computer. In addition to allowing you to configure various privacy and security settings on your system, AntiSpy also blocks transmission of diagnostic and usage data to Microsoft and disables Location Services and other features that can cause information leakage. The user interface of this tool is more modern looking than DoNotSpy10, which some users may prefer (though I don’t).
The company is based in Germany, which seems to be the country of origin of a number of privacy enhancement tools for Windows 10, possibly because Germany is the leading country of the European Union, and the EU has been taking a hardline stance against software companies that trample on end-user privacy with the new data protection regulations taking force as a directive last year, and entering national law throughout the EU member countries in 2018. So along these lines one might consider companies like Ashampoo as riding the wave of European privacy concerns.
But getting back to the product itself, another useful feature is that the included languages in the product run the full gamut of languages used by member states across the EU plus American English, thank goodness (so no worries about Brexit here). The product can be downloaded for free from the software’s home page and it’s easy to use as you can see from the interface.
My final recommendation may seem like an odd one to English-speaking readers since W10Privacy is a German product with German in the user interface:
Fortunately there is an English version of the product’s web page. However, some of the German site’s pages haven’t been translated into English for some reason, though the developers have provided Google Translator links like the one on this page that describes how to install and use the program and which English-speaking users can use for instant translation purposes. One thing that’s cool about this tool compared to the other ones is that it has a command-line mode you can use for configuring various settings in unattended mode. This can be great for system administrators who want to automate how the product runs since Microsoft sometimes seems to reset certain privacy settings when a new upgrade version of Windows 10 is downloaded and installed on your computer.
And if you understand German, you may especially be interested in reading this page (or the Google Translator version of it) where the developer explain why their product is NOT a virus even though certain antivirus products may flag it as such. The developer of the product is clearly frustrated over this and doesn’t want to flog that dead horse any further, but it’s interesting to note that other third-party “privacy enhancement” tools may generate similar false positives from AV software on account of the reasons the developer explains here.
Finally, it’s encouraging to note that active development of W10Privacy continues as evidenced by the product’s version history page, so provided you can “sprech Deutsch” you may want to take a serious look at this product, especially if you’re a Windows admin. And don’t forget to sign the Gästebuch.
Photo credit: Pixabay